Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Catherine Lytle: Whose sandal is it really? Asks Al-Ghazali

There is a fascinating bridge between West and East. If we get past the socially constructed definition of “East” and “West” what are we left with? What about all those countries in the middle? What do we call them? Today everybody is always set on being unique and being different because somehow that will propel us into the paradigm cascading with resumés and institutional degrees. Today everybody’s biggest concern is how to succeed and leave a mark on the world rather than being interested in what makes us all similar. People entertain themselves by asking each other questions to find out why they are different from each other without realizing that perhaps their relationship could benefit more people than their immediate corporeal body. If their race is the same then their gender is different. If their gender is the same then their religion is the same, and so on goes the inquisition. But why should they care more about friendship and similarity? Because what if the scripture said so? My God? Your God? Who said so? Everyone said so.

Christian theology believes that the foundation of friendship is the result of a divine intimate relationship with God and that it is through theological experience that true friendship may come to being. St. Augustine presents a similar view that the “relationship among friends is reciprocal and, in instances of intellectual superiority, where one is in a position possibly to dominate, let us not forget Augustine’s central insight [that] memory and recollection implies that there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a teacher, except for Christ”1 This can be clearly seen in the Bible in John 15:15 which says “I will not now call you servants. … but my friends” — the possibility of friendship through theological experience. Upon the moment of his departure Jesus says this, eradicates the hierarchy between himself and people.  Similarly to this St. Augustine also believes that “he who does not love his brother is not in love; and he who is not in love is not in God, because God is love.”2 I personally do not believe in a God, however, I believe that there is a lot of merit to be found in St. Augustine’s statement; if I do not love a person, and if I am not in love I cannot truly know myself. Because to know and understand, is in a sense, love. Aquinas even went so far as to believe that friendship is elevated by the order of grace and becomes a means of enjoying the eternal beatitude.3

Aquinas believed that “charity is friendship” because as God created man in his image and likeness (Gen 1:22) “God invited man into a communicatio, a sharing of God’s beatitude” and in this sense, “the foundation of friendship has been taken out of the bounds of the polis”4 Aquinas concludes by saying that a true intimate friendship effects a “mutual indwelling.”5 Is this not strikingly similar to a line by an Arabian poet:  between me and my beloved there is only one soul living in two bodies.6 Christian and Islamic theology both believe that the more we know ourselves the better we can know God; it is through the cultivation of communal rituals and services to God we deepen our friendship with others and with God. Miskawayh and Aquinas both believe that through it is through maximizing our friendships with people that we can also maximize our relationship with God. Furthermore Miskawayh raises an important point which I whole heartedly subscribe to: the process vs. the shortcut. I believe that it is the process that maketh man. I would never exchange the hardships that I have faced in exchange for a golden ticket because I would be sacrificing the most beautiful friendships I have had the fortune to have. So why is everyone so set on being unique and taking shortcuts to success when in the end, they will stand alone?

Oliver Leaman states that in Islamic philosophy it is often difficult for those involved to “distinguish sharply between the two approaches: Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism.”7 Right from the beginning of his analysis of Miskawayh’s philosophy we can of course see evident parallels between Ancient Greek philosophy but also Christian theology such as that of Aquinas and St. Augustine. One of the most convincing things that Miskawayh believes is that “it is impossible to attain our goals without the cooperation of others”8 but at the same time it cannot be utilitarian in the Aristotelian sense. This is manifested through Miskawayh’s belief that a friendship that is quick to develop and quick to end appears to be purely utilitarian rather than based on virtue, which would enable a longer friendship to blossom. No one but God can  simply give without expecting a return.   However, in think about this, while I agree that short lived friendships are more likely to be utilitarian in a metaphysical sense, is there not always a degree of utility in a friendship? I argued before that it is through friendship that we come to know truth and ourselves and is that itself not a sense of utility? Is this not reflected in Arabic as well? Sadeeq/Sadeequah (صديق /صديقة ) is the word for friendship and truth in Arabic. Does this not then denote that at its core we cannot manifest religiosity or friendship or truth in solitude? I give the final word to Rumi who said: Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there. This is where two people become more than acquaintances because their relationship is based on virtue and truth. Nothing more, nothing less.

In conclusion, in response to both Miskawayh and Professor Mahallati, my friends are my mirror and through them I have come to know myself better. Miskawayh, through good hermeneutics, built beautiful bridges between East and West.10 Friendship is the place where Aristotle meets Abraham.11 And all I have to say to my interpretation of friendship between the East and the West can be seen below, where Min Jung and I become mirrored in one another.


However, we each have to say “my shoe” for I fear my size might be too big for her…





1. von Heyking, 127

2. von Heyking, 129

3.  Schindler, 146

4. Schindler, 149

5. Schindler, 146

6. Mahallati, class notes

7.  Leaman, 251

8. ibid

9. Goodman, 179

10. Mahallati, 1.03.2018, classnotes

11. Mahallati, 27.02.2018, classnotes



Leaman, Oliver. “Secular Friendship and Religious Devotion.” In Friendship East and West: A Philosophical Perspective, edited by Leaman, Oliver, 164-183. Richmond, UK: Curzon Press, 1996

Lenn, Goodman. “Friendship in Aristotle, Miskawayh and al-Ghazali.” In Friendship East and West: A Philosophical Perspective, edited by Leaman, Oliver, 164-183. Richmond, UK: Curzon Press, 1996

Von Heyking, John and Avramenko, Richard, eds. 2008. Friendship and Politics, Essays in Political Philosophy. Norte Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.


I have adhered to the honor code in this assignment.

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